part-timer doing full-time work without benefits

A reader writes:

A year ago, I accepted a part-time position with a large company. I was told to keep my hours below 30 per week since the position didn’t include benefits, but going over was fine as long as it was only “once in a while.” (The company’s policy is to offer benefits to employees scheduled at 30 or more hours.)

I work on a small team of “part-timers,” and our present reality is that the workload’s increased to the point where it’s impossible to manage and meet critical deadlines while working less than a full week. For months we’ve been consistently working over 30 hours — while formally scheduled as part-time employees. We’re not receiving benefits. As it happens, I don’t have a boss in the traditional sense (by which I mean someone whose job it is to manage me). HR is located in another city and is aware we’re short-staffed, because we’ve pleaded for more support before. The extra hours are being paid but no one has said anything about them.

Aside from whether the company can legally continue to keep us scheduled part-time this way — which I can only assume it can — isn’t this…well…unfair? I do want and generally like my job but I’m becoming demoralized. I fantasize about scaling my hours back to where they were (removing the lure of benefits), but it isn’t a practical option anymore. Do you have any advice for bringing the matter up with HR? (Or suggestions for getting over it, as the case might be?) 

You’re going to get the best results by being dry, factual, and not pushing an agenda — simply presenting the situation without emotion. Say something like this to HR:

“As you know, for the past X months, my team has been consistently working over 30 hours per work (usually averaging around Y hours weekly). Initially we were asked to keep our hours below 30 per week since our positions don’t include benefits, but since that’s proved not to be feasible for many months now, what is the best way for us to address this? Should our status change to benefits-eligible, or is there some other way we should handle this?”  If you want, you can add, “I’d love to be eligible for benefits, obviously, but I’m not sure what makes sense in this situation.”

However, be aware that the result of this might not be that you’re given benefits. Rather, it might cause them to direct you to stop working more than 30 hours a week, regardless of the impact on your output. And that might cause a different set of problems; ideally you’d be able to simply point out that obviously you’ll be producing less if you’re working fewer hours, but you certainly wouldn’t be the first to be told “too bad, find a way to get it all done in the amount of time we’ve authorized.” So you want to think about whether or not that’s likely to happen, based on what you know about how your company operates.

As far as the law here, federal law doesn’t define “full-time” or “part-time” work. That’s defined by the company. But your company’s health insurance plan will define who is eligible for insurance benefits, usually saying that it’s available to “full-time employees” (as defined by the company) or, more commonly, to employees who work over a certain number of hours per week. So you might also take a look at the plan summary and see what’s in there.

Additionally, retirement plans often cover employees who work 1,000 hours or more in a 12-month period, so you might look at that too.

HR should be familiar with the requirements of your health insurance and retirement plans, and they should be monitoring your hours to ensure that you don’t hit that eligibility trigger (or converting you to a benefits-eligible status if you do), but it’s entirely possible that someone is burying their head in the sand on this. So raise the issue — with the caveat above to be prepared for a solution you might not like.

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. BennettPlusTwo*

    I’ve done benefits administration before and I can tell you that we were required to submit reports every 6 months to the insurance company. The reports needed to detail eligibility for benefits based on hours worked. It isn’t just as simple as saying that you work more than 30 hours per week, but what the average hours worked per week over a 6 month period is.

    So, while you might be working 30 hours per week for a few months, if your hours drop down under 30 hours per week for those last three months, it will put you under the eligibility requirement.

    When it comes down to it, the insurance company WANTS you to be insured (because they like money) but your company does not (because they have to pay for it). The reports need to be submitted and the insurance company tells your company who needs to be insured based on the report.

    Like I said though, I’ve only ever done them every 6 months for our contract and part-time staffers.

  2. kim*

    I do our health plan admin as well, but we have no such reporting requirements like the poster above. Ours is also based on a 30 hour threshold, but the timeframe is much smaller than 6 months, and is generally predictive. If you’ve been over 30 hours a week for more than like 2 months, you would probably be eligible under our plan. But more important for ours is whether or not its likely to continue being the case. So ask whoever is in charge of monitoring your workload and progress whether you are likely to continue being over 30 for the foreseeable future, and if the answer is yes, report that in the conversation with HR.

  3. Mollyg*

    I read this site every day, and sometimes I feel that the answers are bias in favor of management. This answer is a prime example. This company is violating their own policies in order to exploit their workers out of benefits that they have earned. I am disappointed that AAM does not recognize this. Putting the workers in the impossible situation to do the same work in less time is not a viable solution.

    1. Elise*

      The bad managers aren’t writing to AAM, so she can’t say anything to change the situation. All she can do is advise the employee on how they can deal with the situation as it is.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not recommending doing the same work in fewer hours as a solution. I’m telling her it’s a possibility that they might say that, because it is.

    3. -X-*

      Sometimes (particularly in this economy) *reality* is biased in favor of management. AMA’s advice is based on reality. That’s the context in which we all operate.

    4. Anonymous*

      Neither is the workers going in and demanding anything or saying they refuse to work the hours unless they get the appropriate pay bump. That way leads to rocking boats, getting youself noticed in a bad way and the likelyhood of the unemployment line!

    5. Thomas*

      -X- said it best: reality is biased in management’s favor, and that’s especially true in a bad economy. Sadly,just because the side with more power is doing something wrong doesn’t mean the side with less power can do much about it.

    6. Charles*

      In defense of AAM – I’ve always said “management supports management, no matter what.” However . . .

      I, too, have read AAM everyday (usually several times a day – love her writing, her advice, and, especially the “community” that has grown up around her blog) for several years now. And I can tell you that Alison has changed my tune quite a bit. I still feel that there are several cases where management will support management (no matter how stupid); but, not in Alison Green’s situation. Sure, she will often see issues from a manager’s viewpoint. But, isn’t that why folks write to her? Her blog, afterall, is called “Ask a MANAGER”; not ask a co-worker. (If I wanted to ask a co-worker, I would simply ask. There would be no need to write to a manager.)

      For what it is worth, I fully agree with AAM’s answer. My guess would be that those who should know do, in fact, know what is going on in this OP’s situation. Perhaps, they are hoping that it will slow down on its own or that someone else will approve more money for more employees or something. It isn’t always the case where the company (those evil catberts!) is intentially “stealing” from employees. (and sometimes it is – but, one can never really know)

      Let’s, for argument’s sake, say the company does approve the money to hire more folks, or they do move all of these “part-timers” to fulltime with benefits. THEN, the work slows down or comes to a full stop. What then? Cut back on their hours? Take away their benefits? Lay folks off? Any of these options suck. (and to say the company should just keep paying them isn’t realistic)

      Alison’s advice in this case is really along the lines of that old adage ” be careful what you ask for you just might get it.” Sorry, But, I just don’t see that as “bias in favor of management.”

      1. V*

        Great point, Charles, about the possibility of work slowing back down. The OP says that s/he has consistently been working over 30 hours for “months.” If we’re only talking three months or so, perhaps the company isn’t at all confident that things are going to stay this way. Or, perhaps they are considering posting a few full time positions in your department while keeping some of you part time.

  4. Alisha*

    The comments on here really made me think about my own views vs. what I say, and I realized they’re in conflict. I tend to give advice/comments to people in my own life (and on here, in the comments, when I have a perspective to lend) that tilt in favor of management. IMO, that’s just because that’s been where I’ve worked for more of my career than not, and I think it helps line employees to know how we think so they can act in ways that will be most beneficial to them.

    On a personal level though, I left the Bush II years with views that were much, much less pro-business than I held going into them in 2001, and I am now super, super personally biased in favor of workers. Nowadays, I see workers as pawns in a shit game, and when I read the latest news stories about staffing cuts or x thousand jobs outsourced in a country with a roughly 22% actual unemployment rate, I fight the urge to bawl or bang my fists on the keyboard until they turn into bloody stumps, depending.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s less about giving advice that’s pro-management or pro-employee than it is about giving advice that WORKS. There are a bunch of pollyanna-ish bloggers out there who would just tell this OP to demand benefits, but it doesn’t work like that in reality.

      1. Alisha*

        To be clear, I was simply musing over my own personal feelings – not critiquing your advice.

        1. Alisha*

          Makes sense…in my case I live in a city with a historically awful economy, so I encourage them to put themselves in the business’s shoes (some are reluctant to do this, but it’s a good exercise).

          It gets them thinking about whether the path they’re headed down is reasonable or whether they’re making a big mistake. (e.g. Kid I was mentoring wanted to complain about his job on Facebook…I said, “What would your boss do if he read that?”…come to think of it, that’s a good example of a time I’d totally side w/ the boss!!!)

    2. Jamie*

      I do think the different perspectives, whether it’s management hearing how things affect their reports or non-managers getting to hear feedback from impartial managers, is critical. It’s easy to get myopic and see things from your own perspective and looking at things more globally is ridiculously helpful for both understanding and strategy planning.

      Where I differ a little bit is in drawing a line between workers and management. Even those in management have bosses for whom we’re the workers. Unless you own your own company or are the absolute top dog who reports to no one – managers are workers, too.

  5. Tami*

    There could be possible legal issues with the benefits administration, but it depends on the state in which the OP lives. I know that with most states you must offer benefits equally to everyone based on parameters in the plan for each benefit. If the employer does not do that, there could be ERISA violations (in the case of 401k), or violations of the law in that state for health benefits. Many health insurance companies audit the plan administration, and I have a feeling this practice will increase in the future with the new healthcare laws coming into play. This can also bring into play EEOC violations because someone could be in a protected class and believe that the denial of benefits is due to illegal discrimination. There are a lot of potential pitfalls with what the company is doing.

    Perhaps the OP should do a little research and could gently point out the potential legal issues (if any), and can use that as a way to not only solve the OP’s team’s problems, but also keep the company out of legal trouble.

  6. NicoleW*

    OP, I can sympathize. My spouse was in a similar-but-different situation back when we were engaged. He was an open-ended temporary employee. In other words he worked full time hours plus OT for almost 18 months, but the company kept calling him “temporary” so they didn’t have to give him benefits. He eventually found full-time benefited work, but his division still does this to people. It’s very hard to get the okay from the corner office to hire any more FT staff, despite work loads being steady in that division for a number of years.

    So I know it can feel unfair when you’re putting in extra work but not treated like a FT employee. As much as I wish AAM’s scenarios weren’t reality, they are. So spot on advice for you. But I know it’s frustrating!

  7. Dan*

    With regard to the “pro-management” attitude that AAM takes here, well, her advice is spot on. Why? It *works*. Her response can be summed as follows:

    1. You cannot make someone with more authority than you do anything they don’t want to do without stepping on craploads of toes.

    2. All you can really do without setting off a huge crap storm is ask, and nicely at that.

    3. Even if you ask nicely, be prepared for an answer you don’t like: “We aren’t going to pay you benefits, period, so keep your billed hours under 30. Thanks for your understanding and cooperation in this matter!”

    What she didn’t say is that even if there is a legal mechanism to get benefits in this situation, invoking it is going to make you a marked man (or woman.)

  8. Dan*

    Rather tangential, but somewhat related to the “keep your hours under X” edict:

    I once worked at a position servicing private jets. Our facility was open 24/7, and we’d usually rack up a decent amount of OT. Every once in awhile management would try to lay the smack down on us. So, the OT policy went out as follows: No OT w/o prior approval from management. Period.

    Well, guess what? Our management didn’t schedule overlapping shifts. Literally, one entire shift ends at X and the other entire shift starts at X. Our customers didn’t get the memo, and often we’d have clients who required service at shift change, and didn’t inform management so we could get prior authorization.

    To us, the memo was quite clear — no OT w/o prior authorization. Yes, we’d tell clients in the middle of shift change that we’d have to walk off the job and someone else will be with them shortly. (*Not* something you want to do from a CS perspective.)

    It didn’t take management long to issue a revision: You are permitted OT if you are in the middle of helping a client. We thought you knew that.

    (How else were we supposed to interpret “absolutely *no* OT without prior permission”?)

  9. Donna*

    I was hired as part time almost 3 years ago and have not worked under 40 hrs a week. i am scheduled 40 always but remain part time status because the employer pays lower benefits for part timers. I just don’t find this fair. I pay more for my medical ins, get less in vacation hours and less contributed from employer to my 401 as a part time status vs full time. Why is this fair?

    1. Chuck*

      Donna, I’m in the same exact situation as you. I’ve been with this company for three years and have been working full time hours for as long as I can remember. I’ve been told since the beginning of the year that they are trying to officially get me full time status. The year’s almost over and I’m still in PT status. (What’s more is our manager was just fired a couple of weeks ago and we won’t be getting a new one until January.) I’m sick of giving this company my ALL and not being rewarded for it. I get less paid vacation, less sick time, less paid holiday hours, and because of Obamacare I’m not even qualified for health insurance through this company anymore since I’m not officially full-time. What should I do?! Isn’t there a state or federal law stating that they HAVE to give me full-time status after working so many weeks a certain number of hours?

  10. Jeff*

    Never use the word “love” or associate emotion in anyway when writing these types of letters. Very unprofessional and bad advice.

  11. Bobbie Abbott*

    When I interviewed I was told that when census went up which has happened I would go full time, but initially hired as PRN. An as PRN there were certain things I would not have to perform. Well when I refused to perform those things, and being worked 32hrs or more per week for four months and the census has gone up. I asked then make me full time, all that happened was since I am classified PRN, taken off the schedule completely. This just done seem fair that a company can use you as a full timer but get out of paying benefits.

  12. Bobbie Abbott*

    Correction- This does not seem fair that a company can use you as a full timer but get out of paying benefits and now Iam out of work with three kids.

  13. Daniel*

    It really isn’t fair and something needs to be done. Corporations and CEO’s are living the good life on the backs of lower middle class employees that get screwed over, every way possible. My wife is in this same situation right now. She works close to 40 hours a week, certainly over 32, yet is considered part time so the company can save money by not giving her benefits. She also often gets screwed out of her, required by law, 15 minute breaks. The manager will tell her she will be off by X time which would be under 8 hours. Then because of the amount of work that has to be done she will not get off at the time stated and will end up working over 8 hours, yet only get one 15 break; while state law says if she works 8 hours or more she should be getting two 15 minute breaks. These are very rich people that are nickel and diming people that work very hard to earn slightly over the poverty line in a year. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting, well you know. Judgement day will be upon all of us soon, and Matthew 5:5 will be fulfilled.

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